Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 - this is the year...

Writing Resolutions:

#5 Keep up my new blog on Christian grandparenting:

#4 Focus my writing for publication on Bible stories for children

#3 Take part in the May NaPiBoWriWe - creating 1 complete manuscript a day

#2 Work with Harold Underwood on a specific manuscript

#1 Enjoy the support and encouragement of The Best Critique Group in the Universe!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Stories

Well, there are several children's books I love getting out at Christmastime. Since I love all things Madeline, of course I love Madeline's Christmas and we always use Bemelman's phrase "ice-cold-in-the-morning-feet." On Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown--the story conveys such magic through the eyes of the children, and the illustrations by Nancy Edwards Calder are just beautiful. The language may feel a bit dated as it is a few decades old, but The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore has been around for about 187 years and I just love it. I like picking up various copies and seeing how the different illustrators have interpreted the scenes.

I am also a fan of The Christmas Conversation Piece by Bret Nicholaus and Paul Lowrie. It's got 300 simple (and clean!) questions designed to elicit the reader's thoughts, feelings, and recollections about Christmas. Leave it out on your coffee table. Pick it up and open to any page, choose a question. It's a fun thing to do with friends or family but also just for yourself in a quiet moment or two of personal reflection. An appropriate example: "You're writing a new Christmas classic. What would be the setting--time and place--for your holiday story?"

As for songs, my favorite Christmas songs are "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" but only if sung by Judy Garland, no one else! It does make me cry though, more with each passing year. Movies? Miracle on 34th Street (the original with Maureen O'Hara), Elf, even the first Home Alone. I must watch Love Actually every year. I will watch It's a Wonderful Life, though I have such issues with it. Hence, I submit another Jimmy Stewart movie that takes place mostly at Christmastime but is definitely not the typical holiday fare: Bell, Book, and Candle--especially fun for members of the Write 6 who like to write about the supernatural.

Finally, when I think about Christmas books, I feel I have to include Louisa May Alcott's Little Women since the book opens with the sisters discussing Christmas plans and chapter two describes their actual Christmas. It just sticks in my head and gives a feel for the characters and the tone of the book, the time in which it took place. I need to re-read it. I think my blogmates would truly identify with Jo in a later chapter, vowing to never forgive Amy for throwing into the fire a book that Jo had been working on for years! I guess today Amy would have to erase Jo's hard drive.

A very happy and peaceful holiday to my fellow Peabodies and anyone else who reads us. I hope for reconnection in 2011--with my writing and with my wonderful critique group, but it's still looking like that's a little way off for me. Thanks for letting me have a few moments here to wax nostalgic in the midst of the craziness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

17 Days 'Til Christmas

Congrats on the website and the renewed success of your book, Robin!

I wanted to take a quick moment to respond to your blog topic, but with a twist. I want to mention one that I have really enjoyed reading with my kids: Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson. It is a terrific story about a little mouse who sets up house in a Nativity scene by lugging all the statues out and pushing the baby out of the manger. Then he overhears the Christmas story being read by a father to his children and is moved to make room for the baby Jesus. It is a really nice story and a great way to remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

I think I will order the classic Baby Bible Christmas for my two-year-old niece and I am certain that as my kids get older, we will enjoy reading the Tannenbaum Tailors, written by my fellow blog mate.

As for writing, I am feverishly trying to finish a family history book for my father's Christmas gift. I collected much of the info before my kids were born, but never compiled it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

At last!

My web site is up!

Designed by Brian Currie

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Once up a time...

Holiday books - what ones did we read/hear as kids?

Well, back in the Stone Age we actually had Christmas stories read to us in school! Shocking, I know. We sang carols, too.

The opening to Little Women (Louisa May Alcott, 1869)- "Christmas won't be Christmas without Father."

Bird's Christmas Carol (Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1887) and Dog of Flanders(Marie Louise de la Ramée, 1872)- two guaranteed tear jerkers! The teachers for some reason LOVED those.

Hmmmm - those are so old they qualify as "literature."

Baby Bible Christmas Storybook continues to get lots of Blogosphere "press" and radio interviews. Can I get one of those publcists for my life?

OK Blog Buds - name some titles NOT 2 centuries old!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Retro Fame

Baby Bible Christmas has been reprinted with new art and the publicist has been active getting interviews and blogger reviews. Here's a few links:

It has a limited shelf life, but this is the first time any of my books have been hyped with so much energy!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

So if we are not writing...

We all seem to be in creative hiatus unto hibernation at the moment - a flurry of typing right before a meeting and then slipping back Which gets in the way of all good writers!

So this month we'll share what we are reading - professionally and personally!

With the much anticipated Harry Potter 7 Part 1 due out in November, I am re-reading Deathly Hallows so I can complain loudly about everything that was left out. Before that I re-read Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, one of my very favorite authors. Every sentence needs to be read twice just to get the meaning and then to appreciate the language. This summer I read Cutting for Stone which is up there with Kite Runner as an all time best.

In the car I listen to books on CD and tried to get through as many Newbury winners this summer as possible. Two stand out - although they were all good - Al Capone Does my Shirts and Belle Pratter's Boy.

Oh - yeah - I had two radio interviews this week! The Baby Bible Christmas is being reissued with new improved art and Cook Publishing hired a publicist! So it has been reviewed in several blogs and now "on the air"! I think in Texas but one of them is podcast at from October 21.

Trying to stay perky as the world darkens.....come on Christmas lights!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

progress?? ummmm...

What progress have I made in my writing over the summer? hahahahahahahahahaha
Honestly, the only thing I can say is that my novel characters haven’t died--they’re still in my head, sometimes whispering about subtle changes that might work or just repeating their story as I know it. As it is now Halloween season, I see things that remind me of my Ghoulsby family or my witch who was making the yet-to-be-better-named BooGoo. That I have read a couple blog entries by agents (almost always forwarded to me by my fellow Peabodies) or other authors is an accomplishment!

In terms of reading children’s books, my search has been quite specific. One of my twins shares a name with a beloved literary character who appears in a series of picture books, almost all of which I already own. I had to do a search for books whose title character has the name of my other twin. I was delighted to find a couple really nice picture books! I even found a borderline picture/next-level-up book for my preschool son in which the title character has his name. I don’t think it’s particularly well-written, but he likes it. In this day and age, you can easily find pre-written books where you personalize it so your child’s name is in the story. I like those, too, but it’s fun to find books that were written to be children’s lit rather than manufactured just to sell product.

I would also say that my immensely sleep-deprived imagination does get a bit of work out--when I think up all the responses I would love to actually say to people who make stupid comments or insist I enact their methods when they have never had twins themselves, let alone one with colic and one with eczema and possible milk allergy, both with a little reflux thrown in. (As much as I try to keep them on the same schedule as often as possible, people fail to realize that they are not a unit, they are two individual beings with their own personalities.) Or the dialogue I dream up when faced with a stroller brigade of annoying moms invading my neighborhood park. I got the worst vibe as they emerged from their mini-vans, set up their gear, and strode three abreast, practically in slow motion, down the sidewalk to the playground with their giant too-old-for-strollers single “babies.” Bad vibe confirmed when their older, preschool-kindergarten, progeny acted like shameless little jerks. The loud “leader” mom was worrying that whatever was going on with her was affecting Little Miss Precious Bossypants at school. She should have been worried about what kind of a socially incompetent brat she is unleashing on society (“Uncorrected personality traits that seem whimsical in a child could prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult”--Robyn Hitchcock.) And even though my son and I had an easily overheard conversation about how unfriendly these other mites were, the only thing any of those mothers said to me, with a look of disappointment when realizing that I would garner more attention from any passing strangers, was “oh. twins? you have your hands full.” In my head I replied quite elaborately. In reality my son had yelled “Some nice kids are here now,” so I wheeled the babes over to chat with the nice kids’ delightful mom, during which her daughter came over to inform us that “those kids are being mean to me!” So it wasn’t just me.

Back to “progress”--most of my writing has consisted of addressing birth announcements. And I STILL need to catch up on reading what my fellow Peabodies wrote over the summer. I don’t feel so bad though when I hear that they have been disappointed in the amount of product generated these recent months and that they, too, have had major life events with which to contend. Mostly I feel inspired by what they have done, though, envious of trips they have made and retreats attended, and grateful that I am still entrusted with reading their work! Cheers!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Goodbye Summer!

This picture from Words in The Woods seems like it was taken long ago, before the chaos that was summer. Ah summer; kids at home, visitors, vacations, parties. Life as I knew it stood still for a few months. Yes, my writing was stagnant. Non-existent, really. I look back and wonder where the time went. The only thing I accomplished over the
summer was depleting my bank account. But those months were filled with good times and now I am renewed and energized to work on my manuscript again.

The break wasn't a complete bust, I was able to visit Gettysburg which gave me a feel for the time period when some of my story takes place, and I did buy some good research books. Maybe I'll even use some of the creepy things that happened on that trip in a future YA ghost story.

I think everyone needs time away to re-group their thoughts and ideas. I guess I am fortunate that I'm not getting paid and don't have a deadline. Although it sure would help the empty wallet syndrome. My dream: to effortlessly get through the rest of my manuscript, immediately find an agent or an editor that is dying for it, get published, and get paid so I can write the plethora of ideas swimming around in my overactive brain. Hey, a girl can dream.

By the way, my fellow writers and I typically have better fashion sense, the picture was taken before a costume party.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writing...and Publishing

We attended a writing conference this summer. I had an online class working on a specific manuscript. We met monthly to critique (in the nicest possible way!)and we still love to write. Some of us make progress on big projects. Some of us flit from one little project to the next. And we still love to write.

It would be so...urbane? sophisticated? mature?... of us to simply love writing and do it for its own sake! And never care if the only people who read it are our families and critique group.

Here is my dirty secret: I want to see the Javalina Brothers in a school library. I want Victoria Dragon to be on the display table at Borders. I want a stuffed Tuk-tuk! Under all the "love to write" is a desire to move to the next step: getting published.

So every year I wait for the Children's Writer's Market to emerge and - clutching my yellow highlighter - I flit through the first pages of the Publishers Index knowing somewhere is the editor who is waiting for Danny Lion! Flitting becomes slogging very quickly as one entry after another "is not accepting..." Well, think of all the time I have saved by not contacting THEM! Or them. Or them...

Ah, the route - they say at conferences - is long and difficult. We noticed. Is it interminable?

So I am trying this year to squelch the Insane Hopeful Direct Publisher Contact Gene that drives me to the SASEs and focus on agents. Most of them take e-mail. All have websites and useful contact information. Many have not said "no" yet...

So that is hopeful...

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Happened to Summer?

I can't believe I had to put a sweater on today to go bike riding with my kids. It was 96 or something earlier in the week.

On the one hand, it seems like summer passed in the blink of an eye, but on the other, looking back on all the things my family and I did, the time was both relaxing and fulfilling. We reconnected with relatives and old friends and met new people.

From a writing perspective, I can't say that I have a whole host of new stuff written. But, I do have a lot of new ideas waiting to put on paper. In June, five of my six blog-mates and I went on a retreat called Words in the Woods. As far as I'm concerned, pretty much every minute of it was worthwhile in some way, be it time spent getting to know my fellow writers better or learning more about the craft of writing. While forbidden by my friends and family to actually work on the opening of my manuscript again right now, I do have some great ideas for it based on what I learned at the retreat.

My family and I spent part of our vacation in Wildwood, NJ, which is where part of my YA novel is set. I grew up going to the Jersey Shore every summer since my parents have a business there, but I hadn't been back in about five years. It was an interesting experience to look at everything through the eyes of my heroine.

With vacation over, real-life has started again and it is busier than ever. We've started our home school year and somehow I am the president of one home school group and field trip coordinator for another. Most of the work is up front, I hope, and so maybe one day soon I'll be able to spend evenings after the kids go to bed solely on my manuscript and not registration forms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

writing..."long after the thrill of living is gone"

So "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp came up on my ipod when I put rock music on for my baby girls to fall asleep to (yeah, don't ask me why it works) this afternoon. And I was struck by the line about how "life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone." It made me think about being old, like in my eighties if I am indeed so lucky. I guess the "thrill" of living, the main "tasks" of my life will have been completed. Children will have long been grown and getting to middle age themselves, perhaps grandchildren close to adulthood. Of course I want to be close with them, but they will have their own lives, lives that aren't mine. And hopefully I will have had decades of redefining my life, possibly my marriage, after raising children. Hopefully I will have old friends in my life and continue to meet new friends and find satisfying activities. Then I thought about writing. How I really hope that writing is still a part of my life. If I never publish a thing, if I never share another piece of work with anyone, I hope that I will still write for myself. When I want to reminisce, I will look through all the snail-mail letters and holiday cards, any journals I have saved through the years. I had better have a treasure trove of life experiences to inspire the writing. But it doesn't have to be just looking back. I can create whole new worlds to live in, even if I am the only one who knows about them. It might be nice to be 85 or so, sitting at a desk in a quiet space by a window, knowing my kids and their kids are busy somewhere, not even thinking about me at that moment, and I ignore whatever post-laptop technology is the current tool of writers and simply set pen to paper. I write. And it is thrilling.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Holiday

Actually we are hard at work making all our trips and lattes tax deductible by doing research!

But for this month let's reflect on how we respond to feedback - not emotionally, but after the first "Hey - I worked hard on Chapter 1 for the 7th time!" resistance is past. Total rewrite? Major character change? Minimal tweaking?

I write picture books so it is more like an on/off switch than a rheostat when it come to rewrites. Some recent feedback I got was: "This has possibilities once you rewrite the story - love the setting and character!" My first reaction was to offer to send a different story. But I decided to take the challenge and started at Square 1 - in this case the Sonora Desert. I did try to hang on to some of the stuff I loved - certain phrases or lines. Slowly, over 2 more revisions, 96.475% of that is gone, too. Now there is more action, more character development, more a story appropriate to the age intended. Well, it is probably more sale-able - and that was the feedback I was seeking.

Now it is at it's last edit before the partner editor sees it. I wonder how much she will change back without knowing it! The truth is I kinda miss the first story and the funny little character I had in my brain. I really miss the alliterative title!

At the Words in the Woods conference I got some great positive feedback from a professional writer and my critique group. Do you suppose that means those stories are ready to go after minimal tweaking?

Part of me thinks there can always be a better word on page 6 or more perfect rhyme in the last line. Did Very Hungry Caterpillar come out of Carle's pen the first try?

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Venue!

We are mostly (Trager is still doing double duty with adorable babies) off to Springfield IL for a writers retreat this weekend. Letting our precious work out to a larger world. How long before we do so many revisions that the stories are back the way they were originally? Watch next week for updates on the event and our experineces!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Getting over yourself

When I first started writing seriously. I was naturally scared that my writing would be horrible or that people would hate it. I was very territorial with my writing. It was as if I wrapped my writing in swaddling clothes and kept it close to my chest growling at all who come near. Over time and with every successive rejection and or new book on the world of publishing, I let go of my insecurities and let others read and critique my work. I realized that it can only help no matter how harsh a critique group may be. They were not harsh. (I am lucky because I have heard horror stories.)

The feedback I received has been both constructive and fun to work with. The reviews I get from family and friends has been constructive as well and not all roses and praise. I specifically asked them not to be just nice about it but to be tough on it. Some were tougher than others.

I also know in my heart that the writing can be great but the story can be bland. I am confident by letting others read and critique that my work that what hooks them is the tale. The story takes them away from reality and the words act as a vessel they board to take the journey into my imagination.

In my opinion, the story has to be something worth writing about. All the technical, grammatical, and mechanics of writing should come second to your story. I can say that with feedback one gets help on the mechanics of writing AND story. So seeking feedback is the way to go. Get over yourself.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gaining a thicker skin...

When I wrote my very first chapter for the very first time (LOL), I let my husband read it. I think I've mentioned before that he was very brave in actually telling me what he thought didn't work. I believe I've gotten much better at accepting critique since that time. In fact, I've actually come to welcome it from my group. I've gotten a lot of good ideas from them on how to make the manuscript better.

The majority of us are attending a writer's retreat next weekend. It is scary, yet exciting at the same time, that another set of writers is going to review my reworked three chapters. Since they haven't read what comes next, I'm looking forward to hearing what they think of the beginning, if that makes sense. It also will be good because, as Ellen wrote, a lot of time friends and family give you an overall, "yes, we like it," without too many specifics. These folks at the weekend are fresh eyes who actually are required to fill out a questionnaire.

Of course, that means I have to fill out theirs too, which is why I am going to keep this short. I've got to get to it!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Looking for Feedback

I respect and rely on my fellow critiquers for their opinions. They are my biggest influence. I've only recently let other people read my work in progress, because it's scary to ask for feedback from friends and family. If they don't like it, I feel that it would reflect on me, they might say, "Oh God, why is she wasting her time on writing." I also needed many rewrites before I thought my work was ready for others outside the safe zone of the critique group.

Everyone that has read my first chapters have been polite and said they liked it. It's funny that I really have to push to get their input on the details. My husband and daughter have been most helpful and free with their opinions. I feel sorry for my husband though, because he doesn't like to read, let alone read a young adult romance. He is supportive, none the less. I value what my daughter says because she is part of the target market. Hopefully soon I can have some of her friends read it, and get their honest insight. I also look forward to the day I feel brave enough to show it to more of my friends who like reading this genre. I almost feel like creating a critique questionnaire for them to answer, but that might be asking too much. If I'm not careful, I won't have any friends left when my book is finished. I'd be like the Mary Kay lady selling cosmetics you really don't want. "Free gift with critique!"

Monday, June 7, 2010


We assume the best feedback comes from our Blog Buds when we meet once a month for critique night. But who else?

My spouse is very kind and gracious - heck he said my sermons were good every single week! So he has figured out his role is to be supportive but not critical.

For that I have to turn to my children. Child A is an artist and writer himself so he is ready to share his opinion on story lines that are too cutesy, rhymes that do NOT work, art that would gag a maggot. Child B is a lawyer.perfectionist and can stop a typo or comma issue that I am waaaaay too close to see.

Lately I am looking to the grandchildren for authentic feedback as well. Can the three year old be spellbound by the "Princess and Too Many Kittens" without having pictures? What does the seven year old really think of the Lizard's Talent Show?

I had a chance to work with Harold Underdown in a workshop recently and his feedback was terrific. The kids, however, are cheaper.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Setting Importante

I just got back from a place that thrives on putting you in different magical worlds and since our fellow blogger is far away in an exotic location. I thought setting would be a fun topic to discuss

One of my main sources of inspiration comes from places or spots in a certain location. There is something so thrilling about being in a new place, familiar place, or traditional spot that we always return to that spurs my brain into idea mode.

Setting can be a tremendously powerful literary device. Our characters react and can be a product of them and as we read we become immersed in new lands, places like Oz, Victorian England, Wonderland, Space, Enchanted Castles, among many many others. I love how books can truly take us there. We can live it within our minds and our imaginations.

What is your favorite setting? Do you like gritty urban neighborhoods, western boomtowns? The list goes on and on!! SO EXCITING!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Morning sounds

I heard a monk chanting early this morning as the sun topped the peak of the Himalayas. Then the mooing of a cow. This is India! see more at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

crazed reflections

i was thinking of stephenie meyer, how she has talked about how she was able to write Twilight as a mother of three young children--basically staying up all night writing instead of sleeping. i have always been a more nocturnal person--it was not easy for me to work in a school system, arriving at work and functional by 7am, or to be in classes by 8am when i was a student. or really to exist in a world that operates 9-5. i would much rather stay up late and then sleep a few early morning hours as the sun is coming up. but to really have pretty much no sleep all night and then have to attend to others in those early morning hours?

at first i thought “scoff! the youngest could not have still been a baby.” as a mother of newborn twins (and a four-year-old), any moment that i am up when i should be sleeping is because two babies need to eat. they need to eat frequently, not always at the same time, and even more frequently when you are trying to work jaundice out of their systems. breastfeeding = no one else can do this.

then i thought “well, maybe the youngest was no longer an infant and the author was able to take that now indifference to sleep deprivation and figure that instead of learning to go back to sleep, she would write.” sadly, that makes sense to me. when you’re awake all the time, you realize what you could do with all that time. when i was in high school and college and not sleeping, i felt extremely productive. in recent years, i have realized the detrimental effects, at least on an older non-twenties body, of inadequate sleep.

and then i breastfed simultaneously a few times and either read things online or texted on my iphone with one hand while doing so. i came to the conclusion that it was just all about multi-tasking. but that requires a very precarious balance to be struck and for nothing to tip it out of whack, which of course it shall be tipped, so you’re just holding your breath till the topple.

so these are my admittedly senseless and non-coherent thoughts on the possibility of fitting writing in. how did i manage this rambling blogpost? magic.

Friday, May 21, 2010

More Uncool Over-Sharing

What keeps me from writing? I cannot even answer this right now because it would involve a lot of description of bodily effluvia and grossness and not in a cool vampire way. (speaking of vampires--i will have to change a main character's name in the story because we ended up giving it to one of our daughters!) So now i am trying to look at it as more experiences from which i can draw--not necessarily to incorporate these exact situations into my stories, but to have the emotions and thoughts available to my characters. And for now, my way of staying connected will be to follow my fellow Peabodies. I did like what everyone was saying about how you dream of many hours of free time to just sit down and write, but then procrastination visits and you realize you might function better when you have to force yourself to make time, that the events of everyday life might actually contribute to the creative energy rather than impede it. I know it will be a looooong time before i get in any kind of writing routine again, but I feel more optimistic that it will still be there, not lost, and maybe quietly percolating below the surface.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

There's Always Tomorrow

I was abducted by an alien. I have amnesia. I broke all my fingers in a freak accident. There are lots of excuses why I haven't written much lately. Ok, so those reasons aren't true, but the real reason is much more uninteresting. There's really no good reason. Like Urania I think I have all the time in the world. "Oh, I'll write this afternoon." Somehow that time never comes, and I never seem to get anything done. I could call it writers block, but that wouldn't be totally true. It's just plain old procrastination. I'm not proud of it, but isn't admitting it the first step to overcoming the problem? Yes, I'm a procrastinator. There I said it, am I cured now? Maybe I need an intervention. Maybe there's a Procrastinators Anonymous. I'll look into it tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hey blog buds!

Nameste Ji! Follow the travel blog at Greetings to you all!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chocolate Rewards

There is always some part of me that wants life to leave me the h*ll alone, so I can write. I think that if I had all the time in the world, every moment will be spent doing what I really love to do. But the funny thing is, when I finally get the opportunity to write, and I feel as if I have nothing but time, guess what? I do nothing. Writing in the midst of distractions helps me appreciate and enjoy those precious moments that come alone, when I am able to pound the keyboard. When I am busy and unable to write, I miss my characters; I think about them, even dream about them. And finally, when I am able to sit down with them, I feel like a chocoholic whose just been given the key to the city of Hershey, Pa.

But the funny thing is, no matter what, I still wish that I had all the time in the world. I always think that next time will be different. That I will work from sun up to sun down, when I do get that day of solace and I have nothing to do but think and write. But guess what? It never happens. I just create more distractions; surf the internet a little, watch a little televison, get a little reading, oh, and write a sentence or two.

So I say give me my distractions, the kids, the husband, the phones calls from friends who constantly ignore my plea of "Call me back later, because I am trying to write." Because when I finally do sit down to write, I will more than likely write several pages, because at this moment every word and every minute counts. And while I am writing away, I will try my best not to get any chocolate on my keyboard.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vampire at the Cable Show

Yes, writing about cable was my distraction again this week, but at least I was at a convention in LA. This time the show wasn't just about technology, but was also about programming. The various cable channels seeking distribution brought in celebrities to draw people to their booths. I got to meet Peter Facinelli, who apparently is on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, but, of course, is also Carlisle Cullen in the Twilight movies. He was extremely nice and very conversational--definitely not one of those celebrities who seems pained to be at a meet and greet kind of thing. The other guy is Justin Kirk from Weeds, who also was a good sport despite the fact that several women in the line asked him to get out of their picture with Dr. Cullen, oops, I mean Peter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What doesn't distract?

Writing is about dedication. The dedication to finding time and then when you have that time to revel in it and not allow yourself to be distracted too easily. Distractions include how exhausted you may be, a fun game, friends, kid's needs (not kids because kids are awesome), television, everything.

Every day we are bombarded with so much information, advertising, and ever-evolving technology and sometimes this engulfing maw of modern life can dominate us. It can subjugate our lives but it can be beaten back with the mighty forces of motivation and persistence! Once you have beaten distraction back with the might of Thor's hammer you can observe the distractions and pick them apart and find what is useful! I don't know about you but some of my distractions serve as my inspiration.

So instead of beating yourself up for being distracted ask yourself what can I take from this experience of losing focus? What is it about this dumb show that I am enjoying? Then go write about it.

Monday, May 10, 2010


There’s Writing and then there is Life.

When I was working all the time – clergy work is pretty much 24/7 - I used to think my perfect world would be to not work or childcare or even cook very much but have hours and days and weeks to write. That was my very vague plan for retirement – besides clean the closets and finish the children’s scrap books. I was going to write, write, write!

But I found myself in the Slough of Inertia! The bottomless pit of ideas I thought was hovering out for "when I had time" was more like a shallow ditch and it was dry. It was not until I went back to work in the library and got into the critique group that I started generating creativity again.

So I learned that when you have too little Life and too much Writing Time, it can be as non-productive as being consumed with work/kids/graduate school. Or maybe I was just Way Too Young to retire!

But Life still gets in the way. Last week was NaPiBoWriWee – National Picture Book Writing Week. We were challenged to write a picture book every day May 1-7 – and I did it! Well one might have been a substantial rewrite, but not much was saved of the original. So why can’t I do that every week? Or once a month? Every quarter? Nope – I wait for the annual event because of…Life.

On the other hand if I was not interacting with kids in the church and library, if I did not get the intellectual/humorous interaction with the critique group, I could not produce in the vacuum.

"A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and a multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life."--Saul Bellow. Hopefully that is also true for picture books about a talent show for lizards!

So for the next three weeks my Life will take a very different turn and you are invited to come along. I will be in Dharamsala, India, volunteering in a day care center. Follow the adventure as often as I can find an internet café at

Friday, May 7, 2010

Jersey Girl

The biggest thing related to my real life is the setting. I've already talked in previous posts about Wildwood, N.J., it's history, and my ties to it. I've also mentioned how difficult it is to remember to describe everything. Things there are so familiar to me, it's easy to forget that others don't know the layout...where the lifeguard stands are, what types of stores are on the boardwalk, what it might look like under the boardwalk, etc.

I haven't been back to Wildwood in about five years, and am immensely excited that my family and I are headed to the Jersey Shore this summer. I can't wait to introduce my kids to the wonders of the boardwalk. Maybe seeing Wildwood through their eyes as they experience it for the first time will actually help me with the setting in my novel.

Hopefully, I'll get the chance to go out onto the beach at night as one of my opening chapter's scenes happens down there. And I need to check out what it's like out near an old dilapidated fishing pier.

Of course, I also plan to eat my share of boardwalk pizza and other scrumptious treats, and then make myself sick on the rides. I'm not sure what that will have to do with my plot, but I know it will be gloriously fun.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

small details, overall themes, and then way too close to home

What elements of our stories relate to specific things in our lives? I feel like I have probably touched on this in past posts. For picture books, it might be a whole story idea--like a story about a girl who moves, written specifically to fulfill a need for the students with whom I was working at the time. Or the kitchen band story, inspired by a music class I was attending with my son. Usually it tends to be not so much the overriding theme and more just a few details here and there that relate to real-life situations: a nickname of a character (Noodles) or a particular concept (Boogoo/Bourgoo brew).

I think my longer story has more instances, though just small details, that relate to “real” life. My main character’s sister works at a bookstore, as I did in high school. Their family has an Irish heritage (as do I) that becomes important to the story. This story has many supernatural elements, but there are strong themes of religious and spiritual struggle, adolescent girls finding their identities, how do we weigh what is good for one individual versus the universal good, what makes a person “good,” is it better to have someone love you as you are and accept you the way you are or to have someone who always believes you can be better? I continue to contemplate these ideas and I believe that many readers could identify with them. There may be very small details--things my characters might see or overhear in their environments--that are things I have seen (while out walking my dog, of course) or overheard in real life. Of course, for me, some of my characters’ musical tastes are definitely based on my own tastes and knowledge. And some of my characters’ traits have been inspired by songs I listened to.

There is one big part of this story that has become a struggle for me. When I started working on this years ago, this familial detail did not relate to my real life. Now it does. My main character has a twin sister. And now I am expecting twin girls. So, forgive the inelegant phrasing here, but I am a little “weirded out” and it does make me a bit hesitant to proceed. Hmmm...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Life in Fiction –Thinly Disguised as a Frog

I need a steady stream of ideas and characters with strong visual appeal in the world of picture books. Now in the midst of NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week – challenged to write 1 book every day May 1-7!) I am drawing out of a folder of old ideas and looking out the window for new ones.

So I guess some of my inspiration comes from the world around. The javelina story grew out of a trip to Tucson . The collard lemming adventure grew out of an adult book on polar exploration.

Sometimes I see some psychological stuff of my own –I had a series of stories where every character wanted to flee or fly. There was a frog who could not get past the brick wall. Freud not needed.

Today I am working on all the different kinds of grandparents a child can have – after spending a weekend with the little ones. The trick is to keep my eyes open and jot ideas for weeks like this!

I have an absolutely wacko cat literarily named Potter but so far he has not found his way into any adventures. On the other hand I have 2 stories done this week, 5 more to go and only 3 more ideas perking! Here kitty, kitty!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Because we have stories to tell...

Why Write?

To use a curious javelina to teach kids about the southwestern U.S. (and prove that even the porcine can be huggable).

To create a new Christmas legend (and make sure everyone knows how termites get in and out of houses).

To tell a compelling love story by weaving together past and present, modern day Illinois and the Civil War South (and say it's OK to sleep a lot because dreams are powerful).

To prove there is at least one more terrific supernatural plot out there (and that there is a soggy ham sandwich-eating Harold Lovejoy in all of us).

To reveal what goes into a witches brew (or maybe that Burgoo in Peru).

And, to tell a tale of piracy and intrigue (and demonstrate that there's more to the Jersey Shore than MTV would have people believe).

Humor aside, I think while a book starts with an abstract idea or thesis, at some point the characters take on a life of their own. Kind of like Harry Potter and Edward Cullen. They're often talked about like they really exist. And my guess is that the reason that countless sequels to Pride and Prejudice have been written is because people can't bear to say goodbye to Mr. Darcy.

Writers write because even if millions of people haven't yet met our characters, they have become important to us. We want to know what happens to them.

Trager has said a couple of times that whole segments of dialogue come to her, and we've all talked about inspiration hitting us at random times of the day. How could we ignore it, especially once we've opened the door to a new world.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense, to be honest, but I will close by saying I continue to write because (like Ellen said) writing can be painstaking at times, but it is also fun. And I mean both the solitary work of putting words to paper and the social aspect of gathering with other writers. I have learned so much by hearing the stories others have to tell while they are still in the process of telling them.

(Hopefully, the other members of the Write 6 will forgive me for summarizing, as I did, their own terrific works in progress, which I greatly respect.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Can't Not

Why still write? The simplest answer is: because I can’t not. (That double negative was for you, Urania!)

It’s kind of funny how you might get involved in something in your life and some experiences stick with you, become part of you, while others fade away without much remorse. One of my examples is yoga. I never thought I would be a yoga person--I had always been into more concrete, competitive stuff like volleyball, interhall flag football, or taking a “real” workout class. The first yoga class I took was a yoga for fertility class. I think it may have saved my life or my sanity. That was only 6 weeks and then I moved into taking Vinyasa, yin/yang yoga, and experimenting with other kinds of workshops (gong bath anyone?) as well as therapeutic yoga (cannot recommend enough for people with chronic pains). I learned about breath as energy and how to control it to get your body to respond a certain way, a simple concept to which to easily return in daily life situations. I learned about meditation, chakras, and yoga of the mind. Plus there are ashtanga and forrest yoga if you really do want a hard workout! There was peace in learning to accept what your body can do at different times and in reconnecting mind to body. I know that even if I am away from an official yoga class for months at a time, its concepts have become a part of me and I will always find a way back to it.

An example to illustrate the “something that fades away” idea is crocheting, which I taught myself about 4 or 4 and 1/2 years ago, before parenthood. I think for Christmas that year I made something like 20 scarves and 16 hats for people, baby hats, and a stuffed pastel caterpillar for a baby. All different kinds of yarns, different kinds of stitches, different seams and finishes and embellishments (I crocheted different kinds of flowers to affix to hats and scarves). I frequented the fabric store, I even ordered yarn online. I was proud of how I could quickly work with smaller and smaller size hooks. It was fun and I took pictures of almost everything I made. My mother said I should sell stuff onine. Even the dog had his own homemade scarf. Then I just stopped. And I never picked it up again. I could not create one stitch now, not even the beginning chain row. I would truly have to teach myself all over again. While I think it would be possible and it might be a nice thing to do again someday, I really haven’t missed it, I really don’t care if I go back to it, and it didn’t become a part of me like the yoga did (and yes, my yoga teacher was one of the recipients of the hat/scarf sets). I still have bins of unused yarn in the basement.

The writing is much more like the yoga, except even stronger, because I did write for fun from a young age--elementary and junior high--but never really seriously considered it. After college I was away from creative writing for many many years, but, for whatever reason, it bubbled up from below the surface and burst into the forefront of my mind again. Once I started jotting scenes and background for a very long story, all sorts of ideas popped up. And then, as mentioned here before, when the Great Non-Backed-Up Hard Drive Crash of June 2008 happened and I lost almost everything I had written, I realized how I needed to re-create as much as I could or I would feel like part of me was missing. The writing was probably always a part of me, whereas I did not come to the crazy yoga concepts until my late 20s.

So to summarize, I guess when something becomes a part of you, you may walk away for a while but you can’t really escape it. Why continue to crochet? Myeh, maybe someday if I feel like it I will pick up the hook again. Or maybe I won’t. But why continue to write? I can’t not.

Why do I do it?

I write because I can. I write because I have always been fascinated by words and eloquence. I feel as though if one has the ability to do something fairly well that they should do it no matter what. Refine the talent, work at it, and success in whatever measure will follow.

I can't explain the high I felt after I wrote my first draft of my first novel. I rode that wave for months. I felt like I had struck oil. I was excited and petrified to share my work and that is when I realized that I wanted to write not for myself but for those I love and for people, not just kids, who have adventure in their hearts.

Come What May

Writing is fun! But why? How can anything this frustrating also be enjoyable? It's that feeling of creating something magical out of nothing. Blank canvas or blank paper,when you create and construct an idea you didn't think you could, there's always a feeling of elation and accomplishment. What you compose may turn out totally different than what you started with. It's a journey, and it's interesting (and sometimes frustrating) to see what you end up with. Characters have a tendency to surprise you, and a new idea may send the plot in a new direction.

For example, in my current project I have a male character any girl would love to hate, but I realized through my critique group that he needs to be more well-rounded. I was really reluctant to give him more depth because, when I write him it's amusing to see how bad he can get. To create some tension, and to keep the reader guessing he needs to be nice though, sometimes.

I like giving myself time to write, and being able to act on an idea that's coming to the surface. When you have a family, it's important to have some "me" time, and writing is mine. I feel the time spent is also purposeful. Okay lets face it, I could be working out instead, I just choose not to. I am indulging myself, but why not, who knows what may come of it?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why do we keep on writing?

I have been waiting all my life for this moment when I can give myself to writing.

When I was in Junior High (we rode on Stegosaurus both ways!) I wrote some Very Clean Romance stories and actually got the attention of some of the Cool Kids who wanted to see their thinly disguised lives penned with a happily ever after. But my father got hold of one, said it was a waste of time and told me not to write again unless it was quality stuff. He had strong opinions on how I wore my hair, too.

Flash forward 30 years (blah, blah, move away from home, blah, blah, therapy), and it was in library school that I teamed up with another librarian to publish our first resource books. And they were published! Still I saw myself as the one who could type quickly, not the creative one. Even after I had published children’s Bible story books I still sensed I was only retelling what someone else had already lived and not anything original. Add another two decades of master’s and doctoral writing and a sermon every week…It was writing – tons and mounds and endless streams of writing, but it was not the imaginative, creative writing I wanted to do. (The picture shows how I suspected my writing was really done.)

Until now! One of my clearly stated goals for (very early) retirement was TO WRITE!

Amazingly for about a year I could not think of anything to say. It was like I’d used up a life time of words on newsletters and bibliographies! Had I lost it or – my greater fear – never really had it?

Then I joined the critique group, first in the structured setting and now on our own. They critique just fine, but, more than that, they inspire with positive encouragement and by sharing their own struggles. I am energized to go to a couple of conferences this summer, have a NY editor look at my stuff, take part in NaPiBoWriWee! Turns out it is never too late: I am excited about writing!

A lesson in Adaptation

Finally, I'm writing the book I have wanted to write for sometime now. Have dusted it off the shelf where it has been percolating for several years now. What's frustrating is it's apparrent that I should have written it several years ago. Now instead of writing offensively I find myself doing defensive writing. I'm constantly changing details, characters personalities, abilities, because I realize that I am not the only one with my ideas. For example, my title has already been changed and it seems that I may be in search of a new one, since a new book will to hit the shelves in 2011 by the same name. I feel like a twin looking for her own identity. Hopefully, I will be able to find mine. There's something I've learned in this process. I know how to adapt.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fiber Optic Testing....What?

My writing project for the week is an article about fiber optic test equipment. How do I feel about it? My head hurts, to be honest. Yet, I've always found that any topic (yes, even this) can be interesting once you look into it. This one happens to be about the types of tools that allow cable operators and telecom companies to make sure all the you tube videos we watch, high-def shows we get on demand, and other types of bandwidth intensive applications we use make it to our computers, televisions and other devices intact.


So bottom line, I haven't actually added much to my YA novel this week. While this is sad in many ways, there is a silver lining: the tech work pays really well and wrestling with my manuscript seems a lot easier compared with figuring out the nuances of 100 Gigabit Ethernet transmissions. I am very ready, in fact unbelievably enthusiastic, about getting back to my characters and their dilemmas.

I mean it...WAKE UP!!!

I'm sorry that this post is so short this week, especially since my blog mates have been very thought provoking. My brain is just swimming and will be until Monday when I turn in my article. That said, I am optimistic about completing a draft of my next chapter to submit for our next critique group meeting.

(Don't worry, guys, my main character isn't going to suddenly want to repair a coherent optical transceiver or anything like that. If she does, please just red line it and pretend it never happened.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

which current project???

Wow! It has been so interesting to read my blogmates’ entries this week! All the frustration. I am afraid that is probably my overriding emotion as well.

How do I feel about my “current project?” My current project is trying to get the twins to the end of this pregnancy while caring for my four-year-old and living in absolute chaos since we just moved to a new house. I have been uncomfortable, exhausted, worried about 8 million things, and generally losing my mind every minute. “Oh, you’re on bedrest? What a perfect time to revise.” Except bedrest is an illusion when you have an older child. And when you were showing your house for buyers and renters 3-8 times a week and then when you were running around trying to find a new house that could close asap and then getting your child’s records transferred and registering him and trying to get him set up at his new preschool. And the time spent driving much further to get to all your doctor appointments (3 next monday alone) that are back near where you used to live but who is going to switch 32 weeks into it?

When I do have resting time, it is very difficult to have even 5 minutes uninterrupted to work on anything, with the following people in and out: the painter, the carpet installers, the hardwood installers, the radon guys, the mold guys, the direct tv guy, etc. on every level of the house. My son and the dog still need to be cared for (we don’t have any kind of nanny and husband still needs to go to work some days). And I would feel guilty using the computer to write for any length of time when i still haven’t ordered many things we need for these rapidly approaching babies or things for the new house. I can’t really read about the craft of writing or read books in my genres or for “fun” when I feel I need to read books about taking care of babies, getting twins on a sleep schedule, feeding them, or parenting preschoolers.

As far as actually writing, mixed emotions. The Write 6 keep me sane--reading the manuscripts they are working on and their emails and blogposts. But I do feel a sense of missing the meetings, not being able to attend the workshops/retreats they are planning, that they are all making much progress on their works and I am just stalled. The most I can do right now is maybe jot down any new ideas that come to me and explore those at a later date...and of course, make the effort to keep posting here on my day of the week!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Why do I like writing? My current project has me totally frustrated. I have been putting it off but, what keeps me going back? Stubbornness, and the fact that I've been working on it for so long, all my efforts would be in vain if I didn't make it work.

So, here I am still trying to figure it out. I have two main characters, in two different time periods ( one always dreaming) and I want to show both of their voices, feelings etc. But how do I do that with easy transitions and without confusing the reader? I like the intimacy of first person POV, but I want to have two first person POVs. I have a couple of ideas, but anything I think of now will drastically change the manuscript. That fact has me freaking out. I keep going one step forward and two steps back. I just want to move on to the next chapter, but to put the pieces together, I have to build the foundation first. Once I figure this problem out, I think everything else will fall into place and the writing will go faster. I just have to get over this hurdle. Although, the hurdle feels like it's Mt. Everest. Also know as; Ever rest?

I now know why Writers are portrayed as odd, reclusive, different. If I'm not certifiable now, I will be when this is all over.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Perils of Performance

Right now my current project is in a very rough stage. I have so many holes to fill, emotion to tie in, and adventure yet to be written! The third story in my trilogy is perhaps the most challenging. I have come up with the plot and where I want to end up and I have added so much and am enriching the story but alas problems arise! Perhaps this is due to my lack of time at the moment or perhaps a lack of focus but I think I actually intimidated myself.

By intimidating myself I mean I am pressuring my brain to create the most epic, pulse-pounding, heartfelt book yet. So my hype is actually freaking me out. I want it to be so good that I find myself scrutinizing every chapter, sentence, and word. I look to my other two stories for confidence and wish I could recapture the magic or at least think I recaptured the magic to finish the first draft.

Alas the way I have written this story is vastly different from the others because the others I finished during long binges that never lasted more than seventeen hours. This time I could not binge write as much. I think the disjointed writing is throwing me off. I will return to the binge soon. I must.

I also know way more about writing this time around which in a way is good but also bad because I find myself being more cautious not to screw up when I shouldn't be. I can fix it very easily. I rarely find myself mulling over how to fix something so perhaps now because I have not plowed through it like a juggernaut my brain actively picks on my writing. I worry more now than before.

Lastly, writing a series of books that all connect causes pressure because you want to feel like you topped yourself and made it the best sequel you can otherwise what is the point?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Javelina Evolution

We talk about craft and strategy so much, but we can’t write without feelings.

I have just gone through a year of Editorial Aversion. Except for my critique group, I have not shown anything to anybody. And in the meantime, something happened in publishing. The mounds of rejections slips are now replaced at many publishers by: silence. The usual phrasing is “NEW POLICY: “If you don’t hear from us in 4 weeks (6 months, a year), you can assume your manuscript does not meet our present needs.” So I was even less motivated to put myself out for ignoring than I was for rejecting!

But all that changed in 2010. Determination was renewed and I just sent a story to an editor, a proposal to an agent, and signed up for a serious online analysis with a well known NY editor. (It was very cool to see his name in my inbox!) And signed up for two conferences to be critiqued. This is my year!

The project most under the microscope for me at the moment is my Southwestern tale about a javelina. The editor’s first round response was: “the setting is great. Your assignment is to find a different story.” Yikes! But it was constructive feedback and he is looking at it again. I did “find the new story” in the time allotted. I salvaged the setting and the name of the javalina…

But he is not the fluffy little javelina I imagined in the beginning. (OK –they are not fluffy or cuddly and no one wants a stuffed one.) I know ultimately publishing is a joint venture between author, editor and illustrator and if everyone is willing to compromise, the end project is the best it can be. The new story is probably better, but I am feeling some distance from it now. After all, the little fella might have to morph again to “meet someone’s present needs.” Maybe he’ll have to sprout wings. Turn purple. Become a bunny.

Feelings? Self-protective. Determined. A little loss and lots of hope.

Hey - my story of the lemming is perfect as it is!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Production of a First Draft

-Have idea.

- Scratch notes on anything I find.

-Write scenes.

-Keep writing scenes.

- Stitch scenes together.

- Okay, I can use that.

-Can't use that.

I can't believe I wrote ten pages that I can't use. Don't use double negative when talking to oneself.

-Need to revise.

-Still revising.

- Still revising.

Why am I still revising it's only thirteen pages. Robin and Monta would be so proud.

-Leave it alone.

-I said leave it alone.

-Turn it in.

Ask group for forgivenes that it is late again. Deadlines are such motivators.

When in doubt, cut it out...

I like to mull over scenes, dialogue, whole chapters before I sit down at the computer--not on paper, just in my head. I find that my mind is the clearest and I tend to be the most creative right before I fall asleep at night. And, I can't believe I am admitting this, but if I am having writer's block sometimes I lie down like I am going to take a nap. I have no idea why this works for me, but it long as I don't actually fall asleep for real.

That said, here is my pattern for starting a new chapter and submitting to my critique group:

1. Try my best to write at least a half an hour to forty-five minutes each night. Also check Facebook, write emails, pay bills, read the news that pops up on Yahoo's home page, look at photos of celebrities I could care less about. End up staying on the computer for way longer than the half an hour to forty minutes because of this. Occasionally get on a roll. Still do the other stuff. Stay up too late.

2. Futz around with the first half of the chapter for most of the month. Cobwebs clear as our critique meeting approaches. Realize that the reason I keep rewriting certain passages is because they are not working or are irrelevant. Cut them out. Breathe a sigh of relief that they are gone and are no longer vexing me. Finally, get to the second half of the chapter, which for whatever reason, usually goes more quickly.

3. Print chapter out. Read, mark up, change. Print out. Read, mark up change. Print, read, mark up....well you get the picture. This usually occurs until I have reached my self-imposed deadline for emailing the manuscript to my fellow group members.

4. Wonder about how it will be received, particularly the humor and the dialogue. (Starting also to think about scene setting and whether I've included enough of it.)

5. Resist temptation to work more on my first chapter. Just, mostly.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

writing process (with or without caffeine)

I really like both Jim’s and Robin’s posts. I think I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the idea phase for me could be something funny my son said, something I heard in a song, a news story I read online, a whole scene that comes to me while walking the dog late at night. Most of the time I keep repeating it to myself over and over till I can dash to my computer and furiously type the idea. If it’s a scene of dialogue or paragraphs of backstory, I do allow myself to just type it all out without worrying about revising along the way, like Jim’s method. If I am going on a road trip of a few hours or more, I do keep a small notebook and pen with me in the passenger seat instead of dragging my laptop up there. And of course “you have a deadline for class, think of something quick!” can force ideas.

I would either write late at night when the house is quiet or follow the way of Robin to the local cafe (but if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I may be distracted by conversations around me, which just spur more ideas!). Like Robin, I usually have several windows open--the document on which I am working, probably an online dictionary, possibly a rhyming dictionary, and some kind of research for whatever I am working on--the kitchen band picture book? I found lists of various instruments online. The Ghoulsbys? I had a list of “spooky” names I found online. While writing kitchen band, I also had my itunes open to listen to three or four songs that were about playing in the kitchen and made lots of sounds for me to try to find words to convey. I might have a window open so I can look on Amazon and see if there are similar books that have been written recently.

Even for picture books, I usually do some kind of outline first--if following the rule of three, what three obstacles or events is my main character going to face? Any funny phrases or words that I will be working in? With whom will my MC be interacting? What sentences or lines of verse will be repeated? What will be the ultimate resolution of the story? Even if I have those things sketched out, I very well might swerve into something else as I am writing.

Then there is the call to check email, of course. Then I edit and revise and move stuff around. Usually after I go home or wake up the next day, I open it up and find more things to tinker with. At some point, I have to say ok, leave as is and bring to group. Group has wonderful ideas for revision, except how to motivate me to actually do it. So I hang onto the comments they jotted down and their verbal feedback that I jotted down and know that at some point I will take a deep breath and pick one of the stories and hunker down. And hunker again and again and again until I end up submitting? Then if anything ever was picked up, oy, the number of revisions! And on a deadline, no less. In our group I think we all have felt comfortable bringing in really rough first versions of stories or chapters. Besides “writing is hard,” I have been known to say “please don’t be too hard, I just wrote this first draft last night.” (Writing is even harder when you are on a pregnancy-induced exile from caffeine.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stepping Stone

Well I need to keep this short...when inspiration strikes never neglect it.

When a pen isn't available, write it in your phone, when the phone dies, tell someone, if no one is around, repeat the inspiration. Repeat the inspiration. Repeat the inspiration.

Transform the inspiration into fuel for writing. Do it. Let the writing flow and do not stop to revise. Let it flow. No worries.

'Nuff said.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Initial Ity Bity Baby Steps

The Write 6 meet this week so we offer mini-entries on steps from idea to "ready to show the group" on our various projects.

From Robin

Original idea: 50/50 from “see a need” in the library and “learn something new on a trip.” My favorite, of course, is “have an assignment and deadline…”

Step 1: Go to coffee place, get a booth with a pad of yellow paper and a pen. Scribble very rough possibilities for a story frame. Lots of scratch outs and arrows until I can just barely see what I was thinking.

Step 2: Since I am working on quasi factual books now I research the settings, animals, weather, plants, etc, and build a glossary of fun new words. Even in real fiction I need to know if father geese actually stay near the nest during brooding.

Step 3: While I am on line play, some Chuzzle to rest my brain.

Step 4: Open 3 or 4 windows of story and research and flip around until there is a plot.

Step 5: Print out what I have a huddle over coffee again. More arrows, more notes, sometimes only the main character is salvaged.

Step 6: Go online and see if anyone else has written something like this recently because there is no reason to pursue it unless I get a really unique slant.

Step 7: Time for more brain rest with Chuzzle.

Step 8: Move paragraphs, tidy punctuation (only the really anal do it at this stage!), tweak.

Step 9: Oh, just send it! The Write 6 have been known to a plain wire hanger of a draft and encourage me to make a satin coated sachet filled story!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Admiration Abounds

For starters, I admire my fellow blogmates. I believe they all have the dedication, the creativity, and the talent to succeed.

I admire contemporary author Cynthea Liu. Don't laugh, but I haven't yet read her book, Paris Pan Takes the Dare. It's on my list. But, I've heard Cynthea speak and read her blog. She is an energetic, and seemingly tireless person, who knows a lot about promotion and appears willing to share.

Truth be told, it was Stephanie Meyer's success that finally convinced me to sit down and start writing after many years of dreaming about it. If she, in her mid-thirties with small children, could find the time to bang out a manuscript, than why couldn't I? I know that there are plenty of writing moms out there, but I guess it was simply the right time for me to be motivated.

I set out expecting to hate Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games due to its premise, but the plot is so deep, the characters so engaging, and the writing so terrific that I ended up loving it. I admire anyone who can wrap readers up so completely in a story that it is ridiculously easy to suspend disbelief.

I think that Sherman Alexie did a great job of crossing over from adult to young adult fiction with The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. By finely weaving grace and wit, humor and tragedy he conveyed not only what it is like to live on a reservation, but also why it's so difficult to break away even in today's society. And he did this through the voice of a pimply-faced adolescent with girl trouble.

While not comparing the subject matter or the styles of writing, I think Alexie's work will stick with me, much the same way Cry the Beloved Country and the Power of One have since I read them 20 years ago.

I guess you could say that I admire writers who use history or current events as a backdrop for an amazing story. Slaughterhouse Five is another that comes to mind. When I went backpacking in Europe, I dragged my friend to see the bombed out buildings in Dresden, not because of history class, but because of Vonnegut's book.

OK. I'll stop now because it seems I've created a tall order. Write a book with terrific characters that somehow brings history alive, suspends disbelief, is written to stand the test of time, and then figure out how to self-promote. Oh, and do it all after the kids go to bed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Too Many Authors, Too Little Time

I'm having a difficult time trying to think of an author that I aspire to in the Young Adult genre. I like different things about each book I feel is memorable. My favorite authors know how to use tension, weather through action or mystery to keep you wanting more. Usually I enjoy reading stories that have something supernatural or fantastical about the characters or location. I guess I've always been interested in things out of the ordinary. Also, I hate to admit it, but if a book doesn't capture me in the first few pages, I'll put it down. I'm a reader with an attention span of zero.

Lois Lowry is wonderful at telling you just enough to keep you reading right from the start, while using wonderfully vivid language. The Giver and Gossamer are two of my favorites, she really knows how to put you in the different worlds she creates.

I have to mention Stephenie Meyer, although I didn't totally connect with Bella. I didn't really believe some of her choices, but there sure was plenty of tension thanks to the love triangle and the action sequences. Meyer is a master at developing all of her characters and making the vampires/werewolves believable.

Another favorite author because of his use of tension and action in the Maximum Ride series is James Patterson. I admire authors who can keep track and fully develop all of those characters. I find it hard to concentrate on any beyond two. I guess I'll write my story first then add depth to the minor characters later.

I really need to be reading more, and I will aspire to find new favorites. I'd like to read some of the classics again, like Wuthering Heights; it's been way too long. Too many good authors to explore and too little time!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Write...oh right!

I don't know if I have one particular author in my genre that I can nail down and label as my author to aspire to. I have read everything from comic books to detailed histories. I remember reading the Hardy Boys as a kid and loving it. Always excited when the Scholastic order form would be delivered to my grammar school so I can go home and beg Mom to order me a new book. I loved the covers and the one sentence descriptions and would often buy a book based on its cover. I am not going to lie. I have judged books on their cover.

In short, I have read a lot of books. I don't know exactly how many I just know that with each one I have taken something valuable from each experience that I firmly believe helps me as a writer. I also feel that stories can be told in so many different ways today and that good writers can be found in so many different places and not exclusively in books. So I can name names of authors/screenwriters/playwrights but the list would be long. So I will say that I have found inspiration in various artistic mediums but one thing is for certain the written word fuels all of the mediums I draw from. Perhaps the most powerful force on the planet, the written word can be wielded by many but mastered by few. I don't know where I fit in on this vast spectrum but I hope to move people in some way through my written words and can only hope to empower others and be inspired as so many writers have inspired me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Words as Pictures

Each day at work in the Children’s Room at the library I am surrounded by the most beautiful pictures books. Glorious full color, shiny new covers, flap book, pop-ups, award winners. How can I choose an author I admire most in my field to talk about this week?

Some I can rule out right away as I select books to share at story time. “How did THAT get published?” I find plenty of bad rhymes, too much text for each picture, stupid character names, morals that whack you on the head. (Luckily The Write 6 preserve me from every making any of those mistakes!)

Then the “classics” jump into my hands. It is a thrill to introduce a new to Marjorie Flack, Tomi DePaolo, and Pat Hutchins. Even over-video-ed kids respond to Marsha Brown and Sandra Boynton. But those authors all have something in common I can never emulate: there is only one name on the cover of each book. They are the author/illustrators.

If I draw a stick cow, I have to label it.

So my most admired author is Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny and pages-of-titles on Her words have been translated and adapted for board books and beginning readers. And she never drew a single picture!

How did she sell such wonderful simple texts to editors who in turn found illustrators to love and interpret the text in pictures worthy of them? There are a few clues on her web site The first answer may be that she wrote in a different time in the history of publishing. She worked with the illustrators directly and fought the publishing houses to get better royalties for them. The second answer may be “location, location, location.” She lived in the heart of New York where the editors were only a short walk away. She worked with six publishers at once!

As I read her personal story it seemed daunting until I found one tiny factoid. She once used a royalty check to buy a coat. Back when I first published Christian children’s books (via stone and chisel), I received an advance on a book. And bought a coat. The coat wore out long ago, but it will not leave the closet. Now it will remind me of Margaret Wise Brown and that words – the best words, each one thoughtfully chosen and rewritten until there is no more perfect one available – are the heart of the story. And words are what I do. I am an author.

The Peabodies, A.K.A The Write 6

Formally, my husband was my critiquer. I would ask him to read my stories, and he would give me the customary "This is good." I thought with his experience of reading hundreds of Picture Books, and children's literature to my children, he'd be able to give me some valuable insight to my writing. I was wrong.

My husband was a cheerleader "My wife is the best, writer in the land, If she can't write it, nobody can." Okay--okay, maybe he didn't say that, but hopefully I've made my point.
While it was important to have someone cheering me on, I needed someone that would look at my writing with a critical eye and provide me with criticisms. I'm not saying that I wanted someone to just negatively criticize my work, but I wanted someone to constructively analyze the merits and pitfalls of my writing. I needed to know what I was doing right, and how I could improve and strengthen the areas that needed revision.

To me, joining a critique group means that I can now see my work through other people's eyes. Sometimes, a writer becomes tone to deaf his or her own writing. It's great to have someone say "What did you mean by this?" or "What about doing it this way instead?" Sometimes, my group members are just confirming that nagging feeling in the back of my head that is saying something isn't right. Other times, they are telling me when they enjoy a sentence or passage that I've written. Then there are the times, they are pointing something out that I hadn't even considered when I was committing my ideas to paper. They are even apt to tell me when parts of my novel sound "cheesy" (Hehe, Monta's words not mine).

I count myself lucky to have found a group of hard dedicated writers to help keep me on track. Originally, it was difficult for me to open myself up to other people's judgements. This was probably the case for all of us. But when you know that the people who are evaluating your work have your best interest at heart (and want to see you succeed), that makes it easier to take their comments in stride; and learn from them.

A good critique group grows together, and I think our group has done some growing. Robin's writing has evolved until she has found her niche in writing educational-type picture books. Jim is hammering away at his third installment of TT. Monta has written her first chapter over fifty-two times and has finally settled on a awesome beginning (I think). Ellen has found her grove with the flow of her writing; and Michelle is chilling with a pen and paper in her hand furiously revising her stories while making the most of her bed rest. Okay I'm not sure about that last one. Anyway, my point is, that we know what each person in our group is capable of and we encourage each other to do our best.

I think that is the formula for a good critique group.

I am extremely lucky to be apart of The Peabodies A.K.A The Write 6. I always leave our meetings with a smile on my face (Well, they are a hilarious bunch), and a renewed sense of purpose. I agree wholeheartedly with Ellen that our group is therapeutic. Together, we are kind of like Chicken Soup To The Writer's Soul. I look forward to the day when we are a group of published writers, meeting at the Panera (maybe we will ditch this place when we get money), talking about the latest trends in publishing, and pouring laboriously over each other's newest hit manuscripts. I think that will be a really great day (regardless of whether we change our meeting place or not).

Friday, April 2, 2010

When I started writing my novel, I was on my own. I'd sit down at the computer after the kids went to bed, turn on some music, and just let the ideas flow. If my husband came in, I'd click to another screen. I was afraid if I shared and it was bad, my spirit would be squashed and it would cease being fun.

Then one day on the way out of music class with my sons, I saw an advertisement for a facilitated critique group, led by Carmela Martino. I picked up the flier and ultimately decided that if I was serious about not only writing fiction, but also getting published, I'd eventually have to let someone else read my work. I mean, that's kind of the point, no?

My husband served as the guinea pig. I felt I needed a buffer between me and strangers. So I let him read the first chapter. He was pretty terrified, knowing that he had to have the right reaction--not blasé, but not too overly enthusiastic either. God love him, he did a good initial job and had me convinced my efforts weren't awful. Then I saw what he had done to my first page. It had red all over it. After a minor freak out, I accepted that his suggested changes made sense, but asked him about 500 times before class if he had been truthful about the rest being OK.

Much like with my husband's loving (and brave) critique, during my first class review I had trouble focusing on the positive and zeroed in too much on the negative. One woman in particular didn't like my main character, and her harsh comments threw me for a loop. It caused me to completely change the tone of my first chapter, which I resubmitted during the course of the class.

Thankfully, my other classmates, most of whom are now beloved members of my critique group, set me straight and let me know that the personality of my main character had been one of the best things about my first draft. They made me listen to and really hear all the good things they'd said about her and about my writing.

The second round of the class was even better than the first because, for one, I knew and trusted my fellow classmates and I'd come to believe that they really had my best interest at heart. Criticism from them isn't an attempt to tear down, but to build up and improve.

I couldn't have asked for a better bunch of people to continue with in a critique group. Everyone is so knowledgeable about writing and so invested in each other's work. It is a pleasure to read all of the novels in progress and the new stories that my fellow members submit. I am humbled by their creativity. It is a joy to spend a couple hours a month meeting with people who love writing and are anxious to talk about it. And, they are funny! We laugh a lot. Like Ellen, I always leave energized.

I guess the point of this whole post is to say that while it can be difficult to let others into the imaginary worlds we create, it is invaluable to have friends who respect your work and you as a person. (And, who are willing to read your manuscript about a thousand times before you submit it for professional review.) I am so thrilled to be a part of the Write 6. (My husband is happy too, that he is not my sole reviewer.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Evolution of a Critique Group

I think the way a critique group evolves is important. When we first started our group, it was as a course. We had a great instructor. Carmela always brought suggestions--what to read on the craft of writing, helpful blogs to follow, conferences and writers’ societies, other workshops that met regularly, writing exercises for us to try. She is so knowledgeable (as I guess is the job of a “teaching author”). I also liked that she had us bring in recent books in the same genre of what we were writing ourselves. We had to explain what we learned from these other books. This was helpful for me but also quite interesting to hear what my classmates were doing. Finally, Carmela’s format was designed to produce as little as anxiety as possible when presenting our work--first people would say what they liked about it, then ask questions about it.

When the next session of that class met, again under Carmela, it was five of us from the first class and one “new” person who put up with us and fit in right away. I think we kept the culture of respect that Carmela had established, but felt a little more free to argue with each other--one person might have liked something the presenter did while another person didn’t. It was really good to hear the discussion of your work (though difficult to sit there quietly as the presenter) and then get your manuscripts back with everyone’s comments. I was always impressed by the resources and information my classmates brought about seminars and goings-on in the writing world, so grateful that they shared these. It was really fun to be able to continue to read the works in progress or revisions from classmates, and with a smaller class, we had more opportunities to share work.

Now we meet on our own or even just email if someone needs some quick feedback before a deadline. People in your group are familiar with your work if you are hammering away on a continuous story or bringing in a revision. It’s people who genuinely respect the effort made and are truly trying to help each other achieve better stories. It’s very constructive, so I feel that we got lucky that we can trust what others have to say when they make suggestions or ask if you could try something a different way. Instead of this massive anxiety-producing event, it becomes much more an opportunity--looking forward to bringing something to the group because you really value the input as you struggle through it. Even if it’s a really rough first draft, to not be scared to ask “what do you guys think? is it worth pursuing? what direction would you like to see it take?” I have heard some horror stories about people in critique groups where the goal seems to be to show off your own knowledge of writing while being as critical as possible. I have also heard that these tend to be more adult writers’ groups than children’s writers? Like Ellen said, it helps to have a “deadline” of when the group is scheduled to meet so it pushes you to get some work done (although much less work done by me than everyone else lately!!). And it helps get you over your fear of sharing your work with others--perhaps a professional critique at a conference or even submitting for publication--maybe not family/friends quite yet. It gives you confidence that yes, you do actually have some business writing (who do you think you are? what’s so special about you?) and that you have already put a lot of work into it.

To echo Ellen again, it is like getting a little present to open when you receive another 2000 words and are asked to critique. I feel so honored that others would trust me to read their work and hope that my feedback is valuable. Critique groups are interesting, too, because the people in them are likely at different stages of life and may be writing in different genres, but somehow everyone has this “writing thing” in common and it all clicks. So if I did end up in some snooty snotty critique group situation, hopefully it wouldn’t paralyze me or crush my spirit because I have been fortunate enough to know that truly good experiences with critique are possible!! I admit that i do think there is some luck involved, so if at first it doesn’t work for you, try again and find one that evolves!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Writers in Therapy

First of all I am honored to be in the Write 6 critique group. Every time I write something and submit it, I feel grateful that everyone takes the time to carefully read my material. At first, submitting my work made me nervous. After putting so much time into my manuscript, would they hate it? Am I kidding myself? I'm not a writer. But then everyone made me feel so at ease, and I realized we are all in the same boat. Drifting on the sea of uncertainty. (Sorry, I got carried away.)

What's more frightening is having friends and family read my work in progress. They have no idea how hard writing is. I really want to share but, I feel like they may have higher expectations. I don't want to let them down, and they see how much time I've put into this. As my son says "Mom, aren't you finished yet? What's taking you so long?" At least my fellow writers know exactly how I feel and there's comfort in that.

It's also fun to get their emails of new material to read; like a present waiting to be opened. I've learned a lot about my work in reading theirs. I've learned to think like an editor when revising my own material.

One of the most important reasons to be in a critique group for me is having a deadline to keep going. If I don't have a goal to work towards, the weeks drag on without writing. Being involved in the critique group, at least I know I've written something. Putting anything on paper is important; I know many revisions are forthcoming, but it's a start.

The Write 6 is like a writers therapy group. A couple hours a month I can get together with people who are honest and supportive, and I always leave feeling energized. How much are Therapists? Maybe we should start charging; we could start a whole new career in service to all of those lost writers out there. Franchise anyone?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Critical Hit

Today I wrote twelve more pages of the magnum opus of a trilogy that I have been working on for three and a half years. I wrote today. I spent great deal of the day immersed in the world I created. I have many influences to thank for this day's work. One of those influences stem from this very blog. The Write 6 spur me on and force me to think on my literate feet. I find myself thinking about what they might say when they read a particular sentence or sequence of dialogue. I am forever hopeful that they can't pull away from the passages because it is so awesome and I can see their notes on certain chapters. Sometimes the notes maintain their honest critical eye and other notes remind me that they are still having a blast reading and critiquing!
I like many other writers resisted the whole critique group idea because I felt like I could be so damn hard on myself that I couldn't bear what others might think or say. BUT I was wrong joining a critique has been helpful. I feel great having the outlet and how each of the members keeps me honest with every critique given. It is quite the experience to take work that we toil at and work so hard on and then give it to other people to look at. Ugh so incredibly vulnerable I feel sometimes. (Did I just sound like Yoda there?)"They are gonna think this part sucks? I know it." That thought has assuredly gone through my head many times. Oftentimes my perception of things is way off.

So join a critique group! Leave your insecurities at the door and just do it. Live it. Love it. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I found the Write 6. I have learned and will continue to learn from this group. Thanks 6ers and Carmela!